« EelmineJätka »
In justice however it must be observed, that the machinery of St. Louis possesses real dignity. The pros. pect of the invisible world, which St. Louis gives to Henry in a dream, is the finest passage in the Henriade. Death bringing the souls of the departed in succession before God, and the palace of the destinies opened to Henry, are striking and magnificent objects.
Though some of Voltaire's episodes are properly extended, his narration is too general. The events are superficially related, and too much crowded. The strain of sentiment, however, which pervades the Henriade, is high and noble.
MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
MILTON chalked out a new and very extraordinary As soon as we open his Paradise Lost, we are introduced into an invisible world, and surrounded by celestial and infernal beings. Angels and devils are not his machinery, but his principal actors. What in any other work would be the marvellous, is in this the natural course of events; and doubts may arise, whether his poem be strictly an epic composition. But, whether it be so or not, it is certainly one of the highest efforts of poetical genius; and in one great characteristic of epic poetry, majesty and sublimity, is equal to any that bears this name.
The subject of his poem led Milton upon difficult ground. If it had been more human and less theological; if his occurrences had been more connected with real life; if he had afforded a greater display of the characters and passions of men; his poem would have been more pleasing to most readers. His subject how ever was peculiarly suited to the daring sublimity of his genius. As he alone was fitted for it, so he has shown in the conduct of it-a wonderful stretch of imagination and invention. From a few hints, given in the sacred scriptures, he has raised a regular structure, and filled his poem with a variety of incidents. He is sometimes dry and harsh; and too often the metaphysician and divine. But the general tenor of his work is interesting, elevated, and affecting. The artful change of his objects, and the scene, laid now in heaven, now on earth, and now in hell, afford sufficient diversity; while unity of plan is perfectly supported. Calm scenes are exhibited in the employments of Adam and Eve in Pa radise; and busy scenes, and great actions, in the en terprises of Satan, and in he wars of angels. The amiable innocence of our first parents, and the proud ambition of Satan, afford a happy contrast through the whole poem, which gives it an uncommon charm. But the conclusion perhaps is too tragic for epic poetry.
The subject naturally admits no great display of characters; but such as could be introduced, are properly,
Satan makes a striking figure; and is the best drawn character in the poem. Milton has art. fully given him a mixed character, not altogether void of some good qualities. He is brave, and faithful to his troops. Amid his impiety, he is not without remorse. He is even touched with pity for our first parents; and from the necessity of his situation, justifies his design against them. He is actuated by ambition and resentment, rather than by pure malice. The characters of Beelzebub, Moloch, and Belial, are well painted. The good angels, though described with dignity, have more uniformity of character. Among them however. the mild condescension of Raphael, and the tried fideli ty of Abdiel, form proper characteristic distinctions. The attempt to describe God Almighty himself was too bold, and accordingly most unsuccessful. The innocence of our first parents is delicately painted. In some speeches perhaps Adam appears too knowing and refined for his situation. Eve is hit off more hap pily. Her gentleness, modesty, and frailty, are expres sively characteristic of the female character.
Milton's great and distinguishing excellence is his sublimity. In this, perhaps, he excels even Homer. The first and second books of Paradise Lost, are almost a continued series of the highest sublime. But his sublimity differs from that of Homer; which is always accompanied by impetuosity and fire. the sublime of Milton is a calm and amazing grandeur. Ho
mer warms and hurries us along; Milton fixes us in a state of elevation and astonishment. Homer's sublimity appears most in his description of actions; Milton's in that of wonderful and stupendous objects.
But, while Milton excels most in sublimity, his work abounds in the beautiful, the pleasing, and the tender. When the scene is in paradise, the imagery is gay and smiling. His descriptions show a fertile imagination; and in his similes he is remarkably happy. If faulty, it is from their too frequent allusions to matters of learning, and to ancient fables. It must also be confessed, that there is a falling off in the latter part of Paradise Lost.
The language and versification of Milton have high · merit. His blank verse is harmonious and diversified ; and his style is full of majesty. There may be found indeed some prosaic lines in his poem. But in a work so long and so harmonious these may be forgiven.
Paradise Lost, amid beauties of every kind, has many inequalities. No high and daring genius was ever uniformly correct. Milton is too frequently theological and metaphysical; his words are often technical; and he is affectedly ostentatious of his learning. Many of his faults however are to be imputed to the pedantry of his age. He discovers a vigour, a grasp of genius, equal to every thing great; sometimes he rises above every other poet; and sometimes he falls below himself.
DRAMATIC POETRY. TRAGEDY.
IN all civilized nations dramatic poetry has been a favorite amusement. It divides itself into the two forms of tragedy and comedy. Of these, tragedy is the most dignified; as great and serious objects interest us more than little and ludicrous ones. The for mer rests on the high passions, the virtues, crimes, and sufferings of mankind; the latter on their humours, follies, and pleasures; and ridicule is its sole
Tragedy is a direct imitation of buman manners and actions. It does not, like an epic poem, exhibit characters by description or narration; it sets the personages before us, and makes them act and speak with pro priety. This species of writing therefore requires deep knowledge of the human heart; and, when hap. pily executed, it has the power of raising the strongest
In its general strain and spirit, tragedy is favourable to virtue. Characters of honor claim our respect and approbation; and, to raise indignation, we must paint a person in the odious colours of vice and depravity. Virtuous men, indeed, are often represented by the tragic poet as unfortunate; for this happens in real life. But he always engages our hearts in their behalf; and never represents vice as finally triumphant and happy. Upon the same principle, if bad men suc